Fast-Paced Cartoons May Hurt Kids' Attention, Memory
In Study, Kids Who Viewed a Fast-Paced, High-Action Cartoon Did Worse on Tests Than Kids Who Drew or Viewed an Educational Cartoon
Explaining the Effects of Fast-Paced Cartoons
The fast-paced shows may have a negative impact, Lillard says, because of the rapid presentation of the events. These engage the senses rather than the brain areas engaged in memory, controlling inhibition, and problem solving, she says.
When a child sees a cartoon character that jumps from one activity to another, much faster than in real life, she says, ''they become neurologically exhausted and it inhibits the ability to concentrate."
SpongeBob is actually targeted not to 4-year-olds, but to 6- to 11-year-olds, Bittler says. He takes issue also with the fact that most of the children were white and from middle-class or upper middle-class families.
"Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show's target demographic, watch 9 minutes of programming is questionable methodology," Bittler says.
"It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust,” he says.
Effects of Cartoons: Perspectives
Fast-paced cartoons do tend to overload the child's brain, says Rahil Briggs, PsyD, director of the Montefiore Medical Center's Healthy Steps Program. She reviewed the study findings.
Children have to grasp concepts foreign to the real world, she says. "A sponge lives in the bottom of the sea. He talks." There are lots of lights, sounds, and fast action.
Some experts argue that this sort of viewing prepares children for the multitasking world they will enter. Briggs agrees that today's children, like most of us today, will need to multitask.
However, she says, "I'm not sure we've agreed multitasking is the optimal state for us." While a little is useful, she says, "I don't think constant multitasking is a goal."
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting television for children and discourages it altogether for those under two years. However, Briggs says the reality is that most children are going to watch at least some television.
For parents, she says, being aware of some of the effects is good advice. That way, they can decide how much television their children should watch, what kind, and when.
"The bottom line is to realize that these sorts of [fast-paced] shows are taking your kids' brains into another place for awhile," she says.
Letting kids watch the fast-paced cartoons is probably not ideal right before bed, homework, or school, she says.
In an editorial accompanying the study, Dimitri Christakis, MD, MPH, of the Seattle Children's Research Institute, University of Washington, calls the study findings ''robust." He says that even transient effects on thinking skills could affect a child's development and need to be considered.